- Jimmy Garoppolo: 21-30, 242 yards, 2 TD 1 INT
- Matt Breida: 11 rushes, 74 yards, 1 TD
- Kyle Juszczyk: 5 receptions, 76 yards
It is a Christmas miracle on Christmas Eve. The 49ers extend their winning streak to 4 games, beating the playoff-bound Jacksonville Jaguars an NFL-first 44-33 in what was a wild and exhausting game from start to finish.
Opposite to almost every game this season, the 49ers came out guns blazing, carving up the Jags NFL-best pass defense for 75+ yards on the first drive alone. While Garoppolo missed a wide-open Kendrick Bourne on a deep crossing route, he was surgical on the other 5 passes, fitting the ball in incredibly small windows. The drive ended with the 49ers first first-quarter touchdown in the past 12 games. Jimmy Garoppolo looked like peak Tom Brady from the get go and even scored on a QB sneak identical to Brady’s. And the game continued like that for some time. The defense forced a quick punt and as soon as the offense got the ball back, they just continued to march down the field. That second drive ended in only a field goal, but at that point the 49ers had outgained the Jaguars 133 to -1 yards.
Afterwards, Doug Marrone tried to focus on the team’s strengths moving forward. Jacksonville heavily featured Leonard Fournette now and got the offense moving a bit. However, that did not result in points at first. Both teams exchanged punts, but if the game -10-0 at this point- was still normal, it became an eventful one quickly. The 49ers appeared to have the Jaguars stopped for a 3rd consecutive time, but a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty on Cassius Marsh kept the drive alive. Not for long, though, as a few plays later Keenan Cole could not haul in a pass, tipped it in the air, and Dontae Johnson scored on Blake Bortles’ 11th career pick-six. That interception would be the only good play by Johnson for the next quarter. Before it got really ugly, the Jaguars blocked the PAT attempt, and returned it for a safety. Instead of a 17-0, three-score lead, the 49ers had to live with the score of 16-2.
Those two points seemed to give Jacksonville some energy and they started to pick on the aforementioned Dontae Johnson in hurry-up mode. First, he committed defensive pass interference on an underthrown pass on 3rd and 12, the committed a hands-to-the-face penalty on the very next play. DeForest Buckner appeared to save Johnson, though, as he appeared to have forced a fumble which the 49ers recovered. However, Bortles’ arm came forward on this pass attempt, thus reversing the call to an incomplete pass. Naturally, Bortles continued to pick on Johnson, who gave up a completion at the ½-yard line to rookie wide receiver Dede Westbrook. Fournette only had to punch this one in for a TD.
The Jimmy Garoppolo-led offense then tried to shift the momentum back to their side and appeared to be successful. They marched down the field for a third time this half, but the drive ended in the worst possible way in the red zone. The 49ers had worked their way down to the 8-yard line, but on 3rd and goal Garoppolo was hit as he attempted a pass to an open Kendrick Bourne in the corner of the end zone. He could not control the direction of the pass and Barry Church snatched it for Garoppolo’s 3rd interception this season. The Jaguars subsequently drove down the field themselves, murdering the 49ers pass defense on the way and ended the half with a touchdown pass, albeit a lucky one. The intended receiver (Leonard Fournette) tipped the ball into the end zone, but Jaelen Strong was mentally quick and caught the ball, despite not being the target. This left the game tied at 16-16 going into the half and Jacksonville with all the momentum in the world.
And things did not look to improve going into the second half. The Jaguars got the ball first and continued to do what was successful; slicing up the 49ers depleted secondary. Robert Saleh’s unit gathered itself and held the opposing unit to a field goal. The offense took awhile to shake off the bad feelings, though, and produced a three-and-out, the second since week 13. However, the defense was flying high and K’Waun Williams registered an athletic one-handed interception — the first ever of his career, just three plays later. The offense felt the stadium now and took advantage of the short field, finishing the drive with a touchdown pass to George Kittle. The PAT was good, and the lead flipped again, 23-19 for the home team.
After getting the lead back, even on TV I could feel the home-field advantage. Levi’s was even louder than against the Titans last week and the energy helped the team to get another defensive stop. Jacksonville’s players found themselves in an unfamiliar situation and tampers flared on the Niners’ next offensive possession. The offense was helped by 30 penalty yards which gave them a quick and easy field. To top it off, the drive ended with a sublime TD throw to Trent Taylor. Garoppolo broke the pocket to his left and side-armed the throw around a defender against his own movement to Taylor.
It appeared the 49ers had control of the game which showed in the very next play. Bortles was not on the same page with Keenan Cole and threw a backshoulder pass. Rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon turned his head around in time, grabbed the ball and just took it back a chunk for the team’s 3rd interception of the day. The offense again capitalized, and Carlos Hyde ran into the end zone untouched.
With 8:59 to play and an 18-point lead, the game appeared all but over. This was not a typical game, though. After exchanging punts, Bortles stepped onto the field and completed a pass to RB TJ Yeldon. The defense punched it out, recovered, and ran it back into the end zone. However, the apparent forced fumble was ruled an incomplete pass and kept Jacksonville’s slim hopes alive. The 49ers now went into prevention mode, playing a bend-but-not-break style of defense. However, the defense bent and broke. The Jaguars offense picked up several 3rd down conversions, and even one 4th down conversion, and scored a touchdown on the end of the drive. Doug Marrone ordered a 2-point conversion try, and after 2 minutes of discussion and review, the referees decided the try was good.
This left the Jaguars down 27-37 with some more than two minutes to play and three timeouts. They attempted an onside kick and actually recovered the bouncing ball. At the two-minute warning, Bortles had moved his offense down to the San Francisco 27-yard line already. Jacksonville’s hopes were very much alive now and as it had to happen, they quickly scored another touchdown. Luckily for the 49ers, though, kicker Josh Lambo hit the right upright of the goal on the PAT attempt. The Jaguars would have to score a touchdown now, a field goal would not suffice anymore. Marrone opted for a 2nd consecutive onside kick, but the exact same play went out of bounds this time.
The 49ers offense had the opportunity to seal the game, they only had to stay on the field long enough, maybe drive down far enough to extend the lead to 7 with a field goal. And they did just that, and more. Hyde’s 1st down, 4-yard carry angered Jacksonville’s defensive end Malik Jackson, as he was called for a personal foul that came with 15 yards for a head butt to Laken Tomlinson. This set the 49ers up in field goal range already. However, that is not where they stopped. Matt Breida came alive on that drive, bringing the 49ers close to the red zone. On 3rd and 8, he then got an outside zone pitch and raced around everybody and into the end zone to seal the game.
After more than three and a half hours, the 49ers had finally secured their 4th straight win. The team managed to get 26 first downs, converted 10 of 15 3rd down plays, held their opponent to less than 100 yards rushing for the 5th straight game and only gave up one sack against that loaded Jaguars team. Also, this was the first time since 2013, fittingly against the Jaguars as well back then, that the 49ers scored more than 40 points in a game. Look out, rest of the NFL. The 49ers are coming for you next year.